UPDATED: Should Free Speech Be a Thing of the Past?

Where have you gone, Mario Savio? (AP Photo/Sal Veder)

The First Amendment, as any European will tell you, is one of the things that makes America, America. So naturally, having just lost a close election, leftists and “progressives” seek to restrict it. All in the name of “tolerance,” of course:


How much intolerance should be tolerated?

Some may argue the issue was settled long ago in Brandenburg v. Ohio, the landmark U.S. Supreme Court ruling from 1969 when the court reversed the conviction of a Ku Klux Klan leader who had advocated violence. Clarence Brandenburg was charged and convicted for advocating violence under Ohio’s criminal syndicalism statute in 1964 for speeches he made.

At one rally, he stated “Personally, I believe the n—– should be returned to Africa, the Jew returned to Israel.” He also commented, as several Klan members stood by with firearms, “We’re not a revengent organization, but if our president, our Congress, our Supreme Court continues to suppress the white, Caucasian race, it’s possible that there might have to be some revengeance taken.”

Brandenburg appealed his conviction to the U.S. Supreme Court, claiming Ohio’s statute violated his First Amendment rights under the U.S. Constitution. The court sided with him, issuing what is still considered today to be its most speech-protective holding. The ruling created a litmus test citing three factors when speech can be prohibited: 1) if the speech promotes imminent harm, 2) there is a high likelihood the speech will result in listeners participating in illegal action and 3) the speaker intended to incite others to participate in illegality.


That, one should think, ought to be enough. But, of course, it’s not. Because, you know, Trump:

The 1969 ruling came well before the digital age. We live in a time where clicks and shares spread hate and false information instantaneously across the internet. Given the tone and tenor in society following the election of Donald Trump, I believe it is time to revisit limits on free speech.

The challenge is to determine what degree of extremist internet speech can be tolerated — in the context of freedom of speech — before determining that extremist speech poses a clear and present danger. Balancing is essential; the consequences of unjustified limitations of free speech are antithetical to a democracy. On the other hand, speech has the potential of harming. The adage “words kill” is neither amorphous nor abstract.

Except that words don’t kill. They’re just words, and unless they explicitly advocate killing — and the Left better hope they don’t! — they manifestly do not kill. Which is what the Court said. But that’s not good enough for today’s repressively intolerant Left, which seeks to censor just about any sentiment or emotion it doesn’t like.

Speech must be handled with sensitivity, intelligence and honesty. When reasonable to assume speech will cause harm to others, we should prevent it. If unclear whether speech will result in harm, it must be protected; otherwise over-reach is the inevitable and problematic result.

Brandenburg must be understood to not only protect the speaker’s rights, but to also ensure protection of potential targets.



UPDATE: Prager University posted a video on You Tube this morning, Born to Hate Jews, about the indoctrination of Jew-hatred among the Muslim Arabs. It was taken down two hours later, for “violating You Tube’s policy on hate speech.” So apparently “hate speech” is okay as long as it’s masquerading as a “religion.” Good to know.

You can sign a petition to You Tube to have the video restored here.



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